1.4 – Composition – The Rule of Thirds

I don’t think any other “rule” or tip can make your photos more interesting instantly than the “Rule of Thirds”. It’s something so standard to professional photographers that they snicker and say, “hmmmph”. But every last one of them’s eyes were opened when they discovered it. Embrace your roots, you old grizzled vets!

What is the Rule of Thirds? (Taken from Wikipedia)

The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in visual arts such as painting, photography and design.[1] The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.[2] Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.[citation needed]

This sounds a bit technical, but it’s not. Here’s an example in a photo by Darren Rowse of www.digital-photography-school.com .

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

Do you notice how he is off-center? In fact, the lines intersect almost exactly at his eyeball. Intersections are a great place to put the subject, especially eyes. Darren’s article on this subject is so good that I am going to link to it. Please read this before going any further:

LINK: Rule of Thirds

This rule is especially important when you’re taking landscape shots. You “never” (never say never) want to put your horizon right through the center. Either show more of the sky by putting the horizon on the lower third line or show more of the ground by putting the horizon on the upper third line. Here’s what I mean:

Horizon on lower third line; subject at intersection

Horizon on lower third line; subject at intersection

This is about the best you can frame this subject if you’re hoping to show the beautiful sky and still create dynamic tension with the subject. All of your photos are going to require different treatment, but you’ve got to really start trying to look for ways to take your subjects off center and make your horizons, walls, or other items that run parallel throughout the frame, land on the upper or lower third line. I promise you, it will begin to make a huge difference in the vast majority of your images. As Darren mentions, get comfortable with the rule before you start breaking it.

ASSIGNMENT: Take a photo of a person and try to frame the picture where their eyes or head land at the intersection of one of the thirds. Then take a photo of a subject on the ground and practice framing the photo where the horizon is at the lower third, like the image above. Finally, submit it to our community at Flickr here LINK, so we can give you pats on the back and “Top Banana” stickers for your effort.

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